by Sarah Maurer
Self-Acceptance, Body-Love, & Experiences
I have been on a decades-long journey to body-love and self-acceptance. While I do not know if I will ever reach the proverbial finish line, I continue to do the work to remind myself that I am whole. I feel it is important to say from the outset, I am writing this from the perspective of being a white woman in her mid-thirties. My experience around this material is not universal, yet it does not mean it is not relevant. I know this can be a challenging topic for so many people, due to it being deeply personal, but I hope to shed some light on the subject by discussing people in online spaces who I believe are using their platforms to make a difference. These discussions and platforms make it worth it to talk about creating new narratives around our bodies and our self-worth, and more-so, our bodies have not and never will determine our value. I am a firm believer that body-love really has nothing to do with our physiques. It has more to do with our inner landscape, our thoughts, and our attitudes.
The Experience of the Body
While it would be nice to objectively look at our bodies and marvel at their intelligent design on a strictly scientific level, our bodies are enveloped by the stories, messages, and the impact of our environment and our experiences. I believe it is our job to untangle and parse out what is true in regard to our identity, versus what has been falsely put onto us by the cultural and social messages of our surroundings. When we choose to do the work to identify these messages and perceptions, this can be the beginning of a journey to unwavering self-love. In my experience, this process is similar to pulling one string and watching the garment unravel. With each layer of yourself which you identify, more will come to the surface that you didn’t know existed. This murkiness can be difficult to navigate, but in time and discovery it will be worth the investment.
Over the last month, I have been revisiting limiting beliefs that I have been holding onto despite that they are no longer serving me. Because of this, I came back to Amy Young’s coaching work. She is one of my favorite people to follow on social media these days, because she does not sugarcoat anything. Her podcast, Just What You Needed, has been incredibly helpful and cathartic to listen to lately. Her most recent episode with Mark Groves goes into the topic of self-abandonment, which is essentially denying your own needs and feelings in favor of upholding the status quo in your relationships with other people and your surroundings. After hearing this discussion, I realized I had started exhibiting this behavior in elementary school at about eight years old (which is shocking if you think about it). The message I received at this time in my peer group was, to put it bluntly, girls cannot have high self-esteem if they want to make friends and “fit in.” I know of so many women who share similar experiences as this, and it makes it abundantly clear why we are in 2021 still trying to figure out how to authentically love ourselves.
One crucial element of body-love and self-love is mindfulness. Mindfulness is essentially the practice of observing your thoughts without judgement. Paying attention to patterns in our thinking can help us to identify recurring themes that are doing us a disservice. Or it can show us places where we are shutting ourselves off from living authentically. Perhaps this shows up as negative self talk around your body image, or denying your heartfelt desires out of fear of inconveniencing someone else. Either way, the first step in healing these patterns is acknowledging how and when they show up for you. Once they are identified, through the practice of meditation, journaling, or better yet a combination of the two, it can be much easier to shift to greater self-acceptance.
My yoga practice has changed my relationship with my body and myself for the better. My intention behind having a movement practice and why I move has changed since I started connecting to yoga as a spiritual practice, and not just exercise. Now, I try to move more slowly, concentrating more on my breath, and the sensation than on the way the shapes look in my body. Instead of trying to squeeze into the shape of a pose, trying to make it fit, I let my body guide the movement, and take up the space that it desires. It is a small, yet potent message, transferable to other aspects of life beyond yoga or various exercise modalities. I am incredibly happy that I can look to yoga teachers like Jessamyn Stanley and Dianne Bondy, who are changing the conversation around accessibility and representation in the yoga industry. However, the yoga industry still needs a lot of work in this department and the portrayal of yoga on social media is not helping to divert the conversation away from the physical, aspirational aspects of yoga, or to the other life-changing seven limbs. I believe in the next decade we will see a seismic shift in the yoga industry, and even the fitness industry, towards more accessibility and less homogeneity of body types that are represented.
When I think about people who are changing the narratives around topics of self-love, I have to give major credit to Brene Brown’s Ted Talk, The Power of Vulnerability which really changed the game within the self-help space. Her work continues to resonate as it clearly demonstrates the complexity of our shared experiences around shame, and the masks we use to hide ourselves from others, like perfectionism. She asserts that perfectionism is one of many ways that we arm ourselves to avoid disappointment. As a recovering perfectionist, I can attest to this. I wore this mask to avoid shame and embarrassment, and it is something I am trying to shed, because it is far more valuable to be honest and not abandon the parts of ourselves that we deem to be imperfect or unloveable. As she says in this viral talk, “vulnerability is the birthplace of joy and innovation.” Failure to connect compassionately to ourselves and others, is a missed opportunity to create an environment of expansion and creativity. Furthermore, treating ourselves well radiates out onto others, and that attitude projected on a massive scale is transformative.
I am hopeful that we will continue to see authentic conversations around self-love and body-love. We cannot deny the societal and cultural messages surrounding these topics, and we shouldn’t. Instead, it is a matter of rejecting the parts of these unrealistic standards that make us feel unworthy of love and belonging. Our bodies are exquisite machines, in which each part connects to a cogent, and even more beautiful whole. Each of us has this intricate system inside of us, which allows us to move, breathe, laugh, create, and imagine. I invite you to revel in the magic of this system each and every day, and perhaps this may dampen the outside noise that discourages you from believing that you are complete.